Most professional mentors at one time or another will have to have a difficult conversation with a mentee. It is quite simply a part of the role that mentors have to play. Even if very few of us relish the prospect of an uneasy conversation, however, there are ways to make the process easier. 

Assume Good Faith
Often, one of the greatest difficulties that mentors have when undertaking a difficult conversation lies in assuming too much about the other person’s motives. As human beings, we tend to try to fill in gaps in our knowledge about other people with our own preconceived notions of their decision-making processes. But as mentors, we must hold ourselves to a standard that keeps the dignity of the other person as a priority. By assuming good faith, we will allow the other person to present their side of the story. 

Strive for an “Open” Conversation
Think back to any conversation that you’ve had that broke down into an argument. At some point during this interaction, an “open” conversation probably turned into a “closed” conversation. This is often due to the fact that one party has not allowed the other party to be heard. To create a productive conversation, go into a difficult meeting with an open mind and an open heart. Let the other person speak their mind. You may learn much from what they have to say.

Using “I Feel” Statements to Express Yourself
For many of us, difficult conversations provoke anxiety because such conversations usually demand some level of conflict. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize levels of conflict in even the most difficult conversations. For example, the use of “I feel” statements can help you get your point across without attacking or judging the other person.

Typically, an “I feel” statement will simply frame your viewpoint as one opinion among many. “I feel” statements are powerful tools because they give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Suppose, for example, that you have an adult son who always leaves the front door open when they come to visit. This allows the family dog to run out the door and run down the street. This behavior really bothers you. 

The Power of “I Feel” Statements
In this case, an “I feel” statement would sound like this: “I feel sad when it seems like you aren’t mindful about the front door when you come to visit. Oftentimes, an open front door forces me to spend a long time looking for our dog. Do you think that you could please keep the door closed when you visit next time?”

Notice how the speaker, in this case, is not accusing their son of anything. They are simply describing how a certain behavior makes them feel. Notice how they also put forward a solution to the issue that will work for everyone. “I feel” statements are very effective when used by mentors because such statements allow the other person to feel respected. No mentor should go without them!